Hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to swelling (inflammation) of the liver.
Hepatitis C - Animation
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to swelling or inflammation of the liver. If you've been diagnosed with hepatitis C, you may be worrying about your health. Let's answer some questions you may have about hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is irritation and swelling of the liver from infection with the hepatitis C virus. You can get hepatitis C if you have been on long-term kidney dialysis, or have regular contact with blood at work such as a health care worker, have unprotected sex with someone infected with hepatitis C, use injected street drugs or share a needle with someone who has hepatitis C, received a tattoo or acupuncture from contaminated instruments, although the risk is low with licensed, commercial tattoo shops, received blood or organs from a donor who has hepatitis C, share a toothbrush or razors with someone who has the disease, or were born to a mother infected with hepatitis C. Most people newly infected with hepatitis C virus will not have symptoms. About 10 percent will have jaundice or yellow skin that gets better. The bad news is that most people infected with hepatitis C will have it for a long time, usually with no symptoms. Typically, long-term hepatitis C infection can lead to liver scarring, a condition called cirrhosis, or even liver cancer. If your doctor suspects hepatitis C, you will need blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. If you've had the disease for a long time, you doctor can use a procedure called a liver biopsy to see how much damage has been done to your liver. You will need to take medicine to try to remove the virus from your blood and reduce your risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. The most common medications are a combination of pegylated interferon alfa and ribavirin, an antiviral medication. Pegylated interferon alfa is an injection you will probably receive weekly. You can take ribavirin as a capsule twice a day. Treatment may last up to 48 weeks. Most people with hepatitis C have the chronic form. But some people may get better with treatment, although they may need continued testing. Even if treatment doesn't remove the virus from your blood, it can reduce your chance of severe liver disease.
Other types of viral hepatitis include:
Hepatitis C infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Hepatitis C is a virus-caused liver inflammation which may cause jaundice, fever and cirrhosis. Persons who are most at risk for contracting and spreading hepatitis C are those who share needles for injecting drugs and health care workers or emergency workers who may be exposed to contaminated blood.
You can catch hepatitis C if the blood of someone who has HCV enters your body. Exposure may occur:
- After a needle stick or sharps injury
- If blood from someone who has HCV contacts a cut on your skin or contacts your eyes or mouth
People at risk for HCV are those who:
- Inject street drugs or share a needle with someone who has HCV
- Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
- Have regular contact with blood at work (such as a health care worker)
- Have unprotected sexual contact with a person who has HCV
- Were born to a mother who had HCV
- Received a tattoo or acupuncture with needles that were not disinfected properly after being used on another person (risk is very low with practitioners who have a tattoo license or permit or an acupuncture license)
- Received an organ transplant from a donor who has HCV
- Share personal items, such as toothbrushes and razors, with someone who has HCV (less common)
- Received a blood transfusion (rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
Most people who are recently infected with HCV do not have symptoms. Some people have yellowing of the skin (jaundice). Chronic infection often causes no symptoms. But fatigue, depression and other problems can occur.
Persons who have long-term (chronic) infection often have no symptoms until their liver becomes scarred (cirrhosis). Most people with this condition are ill and have many health problems.
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver and poor liver function. It is the last stage of chronic liver disease.Read Article Now Book Mark Article
The following symptoms may occur with HCV infection:
Exams and Tests
Blood tests are done to check for HCV:
- Enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to detect HCV antibody
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect the virus itself, to measure virus levels (viral load), and to identify the type of hepatitis C virus
All adults ages 18 to 79 should get a one-time test for HCV. This screening test checks for antibodies against HCV (anti-HCV). If the antibody test is positive, a PCR test is used to confirm HCV infection.
Further genetic testing is done to check for the type of HCV (genotype). There are six types of the virus (genotypes 1 through 6). Test results can help your doctor choose treatment that is best for you.
The following tests are done to identify and monitor liver damage from HCV:
- Albumin level
- Liver function tests
- Prothrombin time
- Liver biopsy
You should talk to your health care provider about your treatment options and when treatment should begin.
- The goal of treatment is to rid the body of the virus. This can prevent liver damage that may lead to liver failure or liver cancer.
- Treatment is especially important for people who are showing signs of liver fibrosis or scarring.
Antiviral medicines are used to treat HCV. These drugs help fight HCV. Newer antiviral drugs:
- Provide a much improved cure rate
- Have fewer side effects and are easier to take
- Are taken by mouth for 8 to 24 weeks
The choice of which medicine depends on the genotype of HCV you have.
A liver transplant may be recommended for people who develop cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. Your provider can tell you more about liver transplant.
Liver transplant is surgery to replace a diseased liver with a healthy liver.Read Article Now Book Mark Article
If you have HCV:
- Do not take over-the-counter medicines that you have not taken before without asking your provider. Also ask about vitamins and other supplements.
- Do not use alcohol or street drugs. Alcohol can speed up the damage to your liver. It can also reduce how well medicines work.
- If blood tests show that you do not have antibodies to hepatitis A and B, you need the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines. If you have not received a vaccine for hepatitis A or B or have not had these forms of hepatitis, you may need vaccination for them.
More information and support for people with HCV condition and their families can be found by joining a support group. Ask your provider about liver disease resources and support groups in your area.
Most people (75% to 85%) who are infected with the virus develop chronic HCV. This condition poses a risk for cirrhosis, liver cancer, or both. The outlook for HCV depends in part on the genotype.
A good response to treatment occurs when the virus can no longer be detected in the blood 12 weeks or more after treatment. This is called "sustained virologic response" (SVR). Up to 90% of those treated for some genotypes have this type of response.
Some people do not respond to initial treatment. They may need to be re-treated with a different class of medicines.
Also, some people can become re-infected or infected with a different genotype strain.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if:
- You develop symptoms of hepatitis
- You believe you have been exposed to HCV
Steps that can be taken to help prevent the spread of HCV from one person to another include:
Prevent the spread of HCV
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections cause irritation (inflammation) and swelling of the liver. You should take steps to prevent catching or sprea...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Health care workers should follow precautions when handling blood.
- Do not share needles with anyone.
- Do not get tattoos or body piercings or receive acupuncture from someone who does not have a permit or license.
- Do not share personal items, such as razors and toothbrushes.
- Practice safe sex.
If you or your partner is infected with HCV and you have been in a stable and monogamous (no other partners) relationship, the risk of giving the virus to, or getting the virus from, the other person is low.
HCV cannot be spread by casual contact, such as holding hands, kissing, coughing or sneezing, breastfeeding, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses.
Currently there is no vaccine for HCV.
Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Hepatitis C questions and answers for the public. www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm. Updated July 28, 2020. Accessed June 27, 2022.
Ghany MG, Morgan TR; AASLD-IDSA Hepatitis C Guidance Panel. Hepatitis C Guidance 2019 Update: AASLD-IDSA recommendations for testing, managing, and treating hepatitis C virus infection. Hepatology. 2020;71(2):686-721. PMID: 31816111 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31816111/.
Jacobson IM, Lim JK, Fried MW. American Gastroenterological Association Institute clinical practice update-expert review: care of patients who have achieved a sustained virologic response after antiviral therapy for chronic hepatitis C infection. Gastroenterology. 2017;152(6):1578-1587. PMID: 28344022 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28344022/.
Naggie S, Wyles DL. Hepatitis C. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 154.